“He Would eat red Pepper and Drink Tabasco Sauce”

17 Dec

In June of 1905, when it was reported that Pete Browning was committed to Louisville’s Lakeland Hospital, William A. Phelon, then with The Chicago Journal wrote a slightly premature obituary for Browning:

“Browning was a natural batsman of vast ability and supreme self-confidence.  He quaked before no pitcher.  The smoothest curve or the fastest delivery were all the same to him. Carrying a huge bat, far heavier than they wield in these degenerate days, he would stride to the plate, pick out one that suited him and whang that leather with a crash that could be heard three miles away.”

browning

Browning

Phelon described Browning as:

“(L)ong and ungainly, comical in gait and action and eccentric to a marked degree.  He would eat red pepper and drink Tabasco Sauce, claiming that it helped his batting eye, and his conversation was full of baseball, and nothing but baseball.  It was also popularly supposed that Pete was the champion consumer of Bourbon in the baseball business, but that was time when conviviality and professional baseball went hand in hand, and the most famous players were the most famous drinkers too.”

In the field, Phelon said Browning was “a mixture of skill and laziness.”

He noted:

“He could make the most wonderful catches—if the ball got near him.  If it was hit beyond him, he deemed it beneath his dignity to pursue, claiming that the younger fielder in the other garden ought to do the running—that he, Pete Browning was hired to hit the ball, and not to run his breath out chasing three-baggers.”

Phelon “quoted” Browning:

‘” Youse kin git fellers ter run after dose hits,’ Pete would say, ‘but what good is dey outside of dat? Can dey walk up to de plate wit tree on bases an’ line ‘em out, bing, bang, de way Pete dus?’”

The Louisville Courier-Journal said it wasn’t just chasing balls that offended Browning:

“Pete was never known to slide for a base.  He insisted it was beneath his dignity to slide, and he never would do it, although he was repeatedly put out because of his refusal.”

The paper chronicled many of “his peculiarities,” including his bizarre rituals:

“During Pete’s palmy days he told some of his friends how he kept his eyes in condition for batting:

“’Buttermilk is the secret of old Pete’s batting,’ he would say.  ‘Just wash your eyes with buttermilk if you want to ‘em to the fence.  I wash my eyes with buttermilk and that keeps my lamps trimmed.  Whenever Old Pete’s lamps get dim and he cannot hit the ball, then he gets some good buttermilk and washes his eyes in it; that trims up the lamps all right and the next day-Old Pete will be hitting them out as usual.’”

The Chicago Tribune compared Browning to “Rube Waddell of our present-day Athletics” and told how Browning discussed his bats:

“When showing his assortment, he would speak of the bats much as a trainer would his stable of racehorses. ‘Ah, that is a fine 2-year-old,’ he would declare as picked one out of the lot, and ‘this one is a 4-year-old,’ he would say of another.”

The paper said Browning would never sell a bat, but occasionally “surprised the man” by giving away a bat to a player who had “looked longingly” at one of Browning’s.”

The Tribune’s early “eulogy” closed with the likely apocryphal story that was demonstrate how laser focused Browning was on baseball to the exclusion of everything else around him:

“(O)n the occasion of (President) Garfield’s assassination he said to the newsboy who was crying out extras: ‘Who’s that you say is assassinated?’ ‘Why, Garfield!’ shouted the boy…” What league did he play with?’ is the alleged return made by Browning.”

The Tribune allowed that the story was “discredited by some who knew the man best,” and that many claimed that Browning “knew the humor” in many of the things he was alleged to have said “by accident.”

Although the first reports of Browning’s imminent death were premature—he was released from Lakeland after two weeks—he spent the next six weeks in and out of hospitals before he died on September 10.

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s